Today may be our teacher's last day in Al Aqaba because her visa expires tomorrow. Hopefully, it will be renewed tomorrow and she will be back teaching on Thursday. In the meantime, I would like to properly introduce you to the second teacher you sent to Al Aqaba through this project. A graduate of Whitman College in race and ethnic studies (concentration in the Middle East), Morgan heard about our work when she was teaching in New Orleans as a volunteer with AmeriCorps. She had gone there to rebuild after the hurricane and got in touch because of her interest in rebuilding communities and the Middle East.
Please enjoy Morgan's one month reflection that she originally posted on her blog. Thank you as always for supporting this project. More to come soon.
I can’t express how grateful I am for the opportunity to be in Al Aqaba right now. One month ago, I was in my family’s home in Seattle, trying to fit my life into two suitcases and trust that everything would be alright. I was looking forward to the flight, to Amman, to the adventure that is traveling in the West Bank, but I was most looking forward to rolling my suitcases into my new home, the Al Aqaba Guest House.
It’s been a great month. I’m settled into the apartment, and finally settled into a routine. As soon as I kicked the jetlag, which afforded me several gorgeous sunsets and national anthems from the secondary school downstairs, I started to get up around 8:30. At 9, I lead two lessons in the kindergarten. We’re working on our ABC’s and recognizing letter sounds. The kids are also having fun with Total Physical Response-sit down! stand up! turn around! Next, I want to work on sounding out three-letter words, with some props and visuals. I need a stuffed cat. I’ve never taught little kids before, but it involves a lot of theatricality and enthusiasm, and you really get what you give. They pound on their little tables and shout loudly and try to respond to the in-between English instructions they don’t understand. I’ve gained a lot of respect for kindergarten teachers. I can’t speak yet with most of these women, but I see how close they are with the kids and I want to express my admiration. I think they can tell I’m new at this.
At 10 I teach the 9th and 10th grade boys. Past 4th grade, the girls of Al Aqaba attend school in Tayasir, so there’s a lot of boy energy in this secondary school. My students are, well, 14 and 15-year-old boys. They’re too cool for school, and my class falls in the middle of their morning break, which can be hectic. At least it’s an improvement from the original 7am arrangement. These guys are goofy and charming, much like my students in New Orleans, and they have a lot of enthusiasm that I can play off of, but it’s directed more at me as their portal to the outside world than it is for conversing in English. I want to say, “Conversing in English is your portal to the outside world!” Some of them just don’t want to speak at all, but even those who do have few opportunities to practice. But they want to see my pictures, videos, music, and be my Facebook friend. I think it’s great that I get to show them all these things, but the challenge is harnessing it into something they can use. Setting up the new English program to reach students earlier and coming up with creative, non-class opportunities to practice English is going to be key.
I teach an adult class at 5, and I have ten regular students. They’re students, lawyers, teachers, parents from Tubas and Tayasir and they’re all eager to improve their conversational skills. I make up a new lesson every day, based on language patterns I read or hear, or common mistakes I notice. Then at the end, I play a song that demonstrates that pattern. The atmosphere is getting more relaxed, and more of my students are comfortable holding casual conversations. They catch me up on the news, invite me places, and I know it’s in those conversations where they get the best practice. That, and it’s nice to have friends in the city.
As my routine becomes more solid, so do my relationships. The people who work for Al Aqaba have become my teachers and helpers. Othman and Amira and Tahrir who work in the office, Abu Saleh, the groundskeeper, Hisham, the driver, Mohammad and Hekmat, who run the sewing co-op, Mustafa, Haj Sami’s nephew, and of course, Haj Sami. I’ve learned so much from everyone, and the positive energy here is infectious.
Due to your wonderful support, we successfully launched our program, Rebuild to Remain! Before I say anything else, I want to thank you again for your donation — that made this program possible. I am writing to you as founding donors to convey both good news and challenges... sometimes the good news leads, sometimes the dance begins with a challenge.
As one of the very first donors in our Rebuilding to Remain program, would you like to join us in making calls to your Senators and Representative this Tuesday, Jan. 3rd? We'll have calling scripts and follow-up email templates ready by Sunday night at http://rebuildingalliance.org/get-involved/how-to-call-congress/ Please feel free to call me on my cell at 1 650 440-9667 if you have questions or would like encouragement.
We went to Washington DC in early December anticipating our homes would be at risk as building begins. We needed to talk with sister organizations and friendly congressional staff to figure out next steps. At the same time that the Rebuilding Alliance team went to Washington D.C. to walk the halls of Congress and press for State Department assistance, UNOCHA brought embassy staff from the 17 embassies who invested in Al Aqaba to stay overnight to experience for themselves the challenges these villagers face.
Seeds are being planted – your call or email will help them take root and grow.
Thank you again for your support and confidence. It makes a big difference.
It was nearly Christmas Eve. Families were gathered to celebrate the eight nights of Chanukah. On this Friday morning my time, the mayor of the West Bank Palestinian village of Al Aqaba, Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq Sbaih, gave me permission “to write about what happened if you think it will do some good.” In fact, the Mayor’s decision to bring this forward is itself an act of heroism. As some have told him, if he were anyone else, he would be put into Palestinian prison for the letter he wrote on Sept. 17th to Israeli Brigadier General Moti Almoz.
In that meeting, Governor Toubassi presented the urgent concerns of other Palestinian villages and hundreds of family groups in the Jordan Valley also facing imminent demolition much like Al Aqaba. Over 12,500 demolition orders are pending on Palestinian structures built on their own land in Area C and the Israeli Army has issued a sudden rash of new demolition orders. Mayor Haj Sami, surrounded by the posters of Rebuilding to Remain home designs and village plans, described Al Aqaba Village’s efforts to remain on the land they own and assure its own right to issue building permits.
Mayor Haj Sami recounted:
Mayor: Why are you demolishing our homes? Why are you demolishing Peace Street?
Brig. General: There is no Town Plan for Al Aqaba.
Mayor: But we gave you three Town Plans! In August, we filed Town Plan #3 — but no answer. Now our village council has approved our building permits in accordance with our Town Plan. We are starting construction in the center of Al Aqaba village. We call it “Rebuilding to Remain.”
Brig. General: Wait until we approve your Town Plan.
Mayor: You tell me to wait, but for more than 10 years we have worked tirelessly to petition for the fair application of law. How long must we wait to build our homes on our own land within our own community? We believe in peace and are determined to be good neighbors. Why do you send demolition orders to make our families abandon our homes and our own land? [Note: the Mayor speaks from a wheelchair because he was the first victim when the Israeli Army used the village for unprovoked live-fire training exercises. Over 30 years, 12 villagers were killed and 36 wounded. This ended only in 2002 when the Israeli High Court ruled in favor of the village and the Israeli Army complied in 2003, destroyed its own training camp, and stopped using Al Aqaba Village for training. That's when Rebuilding Alliance helped build the kindergarten & families planned to return home.]
Brig. General: You must have a Town Plan.
Mayor: Each time you issue a demolition order to a family, they must pay 3000-4000 NIS to petition the court to freeze that order.
Brig. General: I know, I know.
Mayor: They are very poor families: they herd sheep to live. Do you know how hard it is for them to pay for the surveyor and to pay all the fees?
Brig. General: I know.
Mayor: Why do you block Israeli people from visiting Al Aqaba? This is Area C, yet your soldiers turn them back at the checkpoint next to the village when they can see our mosque up ahead. Why?
The Brigadier General promised to consider all this. He gave the mayor his cell phone number, but he did not reverse the demolition orders. His staff said a report would be completed on Dec. 27th. When I called the International Relations Department of the Israeli Civil Administration, they said the report is internal only and that the Brigadier General must raise Al Aqaba's future with "higher ups." I asked who is higher than the Brig. General — sounds like the report will reach the Minister of Defense.
I have some exciting news about the birthing center. Because of your continued support and donations, this project is nearly fully funded!
In addition, the Rotary Club Matching Grant which is for the birthing center equipment (ultra-sound, heart-monitors, etc.), has now been sponsored by seven Rotary Clubs in the United States, Palestine, and Israel. That matching grant application, a sister grant to the birthing center training provided through your donations to GlobalGiving, now moves forward for review at Rotary International. In total, both grants will make this is a $58,000 project! We look forward to approval in a few months time.
If all goes well, the equipment will arrive in the spring and training at the birthing center will commence shortly thereafter. Would you like to travel there to join them? We are organizing a tour in April or May, 2012 to visit the Holyland and stay in Al Aqaba while this training gets underway. If you are interested in learning more about this tour, please let me know!
Thank you for your continuing support in helping fund this project. Through your generosity, Palestinian families of Area C in the West Bank will have a birthing center, in'shalah, equipped and staffed, to provide family-centered birthing assistance in addition to pre and post-natal care for mothers and children.